Among the most renowned of Thailand’s current crop of prominent artists is Somnuek Klangnok, a contemporary illustrator and painter who has garnered much attention for his unique style featuring exaggerated lines and forms that produce colourful, almost caricature-like depictions.
Somnuek’s creative journey began at a young age. Born in the provincial town of Buriram into a family with a farming background, his fascination with art blossomed from constantly being surrounded by nature’s beauty.
“As a kid I loved to watch the sun rise and set,” he says. “I would go into the forest and collect mushrooms and watch as raindrops fell from leaves. I saw beauty everywhere.” His early talent was honed not in art classes like most kids but in the fields with a twig in his hand as he drew pictures in the soil. He adds with a laugh, “I couldn’t see an empty patch of sand without wanting to draw on it.”
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After primary school, Somnuek continued his secondary education in Ayudhya as a monk at Wat Noi temple. And it was during the temple’s once-a-month art classes that he was able to truly unleash his creative energy. Adamant about perfecting his skills and learning as much as he could on the subject matter, he would spend hours in the library ploughing through the temple’s wide range of art books. As time went by, his love for the world of artistic creativity continued to grow and by the age of 14 there was no doubt for Somnuek that a career could be made out of it. Initially, he wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Silpakorn University but his father’s passing led him to enter Mahakut Buddhist University where he completed a bachelor’s degree in humanities, majoring in English. As fate would have it, a series of fortunate encounters led him to meet ML Chiratorn Chirapravati, more commonly known as Kru Toh, who became his mentor. Today, Somnuek continues to help Kru Toh teach art.
As Somnuek is quick to acknowledge, striving for a sustainable career as an artist is a precarious proposition. However, he is also living proof that it is possible—albeit with its own set of challenges. The creative industry is a competitive one. Clearly much determination, hard work and persistence is demanded but according to Somnuek, there is one key factor that one cannot get away from. “True passion,” he says. “When you discover what you truly love, it will come naturally and you will never have to force yourself.” That said, it’s one thing to be able to draw or paint what the eye sees and another to create your own world and identity as an artist. “There is no wrong or right with art,” says the illustrator. “It took me years to find myself as an artist and develop my own style.”
Today, the gifted artist has had the chance to exhibit his work locally and internationally. His inspiration derives not only from vibrant Bangkok but the cities to which he travels around the world. “It is the people I see in the streets going about their everyday lives that inspires me,” he says. “I like to sit at a café and people-watch. Sometimes I discreetly take pictures of them for my inspiration folder.” What results are unique portraits of people and snap-shots of life embellished with touches from Somnuek’s own fertile imagination.
When he isn’t painting, the artist loves to decorate his home—particularly with colourful flower arrangements that act as reminders of his youth in the countryside. “I go to the flower market all the time,” he says. “Having fresh flowers in the home makes it livelier.” He is also currently in the process of opening a restaurant with a gallery space. It is a timely venture as Somnuek says he is running out of space to keep his growing collection of paintings.
His advice for aspiring young artists? “If art is truly your passion then go for it,” he smiles. “Don’t think about income or what you might get in return. Give it your best and people will come to appreciate you and your work.”